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From Word of Mouth - Towards Networking

Most of us strive for success, but often don't quite know how to achieve it. Many underestimate the power that networking brings. So how do you navigate the world of business networking efficiently and effectively? Specialists from different Comarch regions helped us to explore this topic, while showing us different perspectives arising from particular corners of the world. 

Networking means establishing business relationships to collaborate, exchange knowledge and skills. How would you define networking? What are its characteristics?

Samir Hermassi - Sales Director Telecommunications, Dubai: 

Networking is as much a process of making acquaintances and building relationships. These acquaintances can provide leads and contacts to help you make informed career decisions. Networking can take place in a group or one-on-one.

Luiz Paveloski - Business Director, Latin America: 

Networking is an activity in which the person you are approaching shares their time to listen to you and ask questions, without any coercion (it should happen naturally). It is characterized by attentiveness, confidence and fruitful conversation. It must not be a one-sided approach in which only the salesperson asks questions.

Hussam Kesserwan - Regional Sales Manager, Saudi Arabia: 

It is a form of sharing knowledge, information and ideas with other professionals, especially in the field you specialize in. In my opinion, this should be used to create real benefits in terms of services or products that you can provide to the other professional.

There are many forms of acquiring new contacts, networking is definitely one of them. Do you think it is important? 

Samir: Yes, definitely networking is crucial in business because it helps to exchange information or services between individuals, groups or institutions. In particular, cultivating productive relationships for employment or business.

Luiz: This is indeed the case. Especially in Brazil and Latin America, networking helps a lot when we are looking for a client or when we are in final meetings to close deals. Even if we don't know the key person, knowing someone who also knows them is very valuable and can help generate successful results, increasing trust and sometimes good references for the deal.

Hussam: As Porter Gale says, "your network is your net worth," which I really believe in. Networking is one of the most important things in business.

So we should be as open as possible. Are there different forms of networking? What does it look like in your country? 

Samir: Networking can take different forms, depending on the context and goals. In my region, it's important to remember that, regardless of the type of networking, the key aspect is authenticity and sincere interest in the other person, not just the potential benefits to be gained from it. Personal networking involves building relationships on a personal level by attending social gatherings such as parties, celebrations and club meetings where you can connect with people who can help you advance your career or business.

The second type popular in Dubai is professional networking. This focuses on building relationships in a professional context, which may include attending industry conferences, trade shows, workshops or other events that bring together professionals in a particular sector. 

Next, strategic networking involves the intentional establishment of relationships that can bring specific benefits in the future. This most often involves establishing and maintaining contacts with influential people in the industry, potential clients or business partners. The last form that I think is effective in my corner of the world is informal networking, which takes place in a casual, informal setting, often outside of a professional environment. It most often involves various social gatherings, such as company events, picnics or other opportunities to establish casual relationships with co-workers, clients or business partners.

Luiz: Yes, they do exist. Digital networking through constant contact via electronic platforms was introduced before the pandemic. It became important during the pandemic, and is still a good source of communication in my state.

Face-to-face networking is also an important form, but it is usually used for closer contacts (for example, people who know you from previous jobs) or contacts with existing clients. Business lunches or dinners are also a good way to meet informally to talk business and try to gather important information about a competitor or a specific cooperation opportunity.

Hussam: There are many ways to network, both digitally and in person. Networking can take place at conferences, summits and events where professionals from similar industries meet. It can also occur through social media, LinkedIn is a powerful tool where one can interact with others on mutually interesting topics.

In Saudi Arabia, networking is based on building strong and lasting relationships. Building such contacts takes effort, and it is important to find common interests outside the scope of work, such as paddling or other activities that help us get closer to another person.

The channels through which we can reach specific audiences are changing all the time. So what tools help you gain new contacts (business cards, platforms) in your region? 

Samir: In my opinion, the most important opportunities are events, exchanging business cards, platforms (mainly Linkedin and WhatsApp), reaching the target person through an already known contact, especially in Dubai.

Luiz: Business cards are not often used in our region anymore. Linkedin is the main tool. Once contact is made, WhatsApp becomes the main platform for communication.

Hussam: I think business cards, LinkedIn and industry conferences or events like that are the most important now. In-person meetings are still very important in the corner of the world where I work.

How should we prepare for networking depending on the country we are in? 

Samir: In the UAE, it is extremely important to know how to approach people. The UAE is multicultural, so we need to know their culture when we converse. The way we approach an Emirati, Asian, African or European will be different. For example, when meeting Muslim women, do not offer to shake hands first, as some women may refuse. When talking to executives, try to be direct, concise and bring up the subject whenever a good opportunity arises.
Executives can be very busy and in a hurry all the time. Therefore, especially during events, try to pick a good time to talk to them and have your business card with you at all times.

It is also very important that we know the structure/hierarchy of a particular organization when we contact certain people. As mentioned, executives are very busy, so when the opportunity to meet with them comes up, it is important to start building relationships with people who are under the umbrella of specific executives. They will help you, when you are convinced of your solution/offer, to contact the director again with a more specific topic to discuss.

Another thing to make sure of is to approach the right person to discuss a specific topic. We need to know the exact area of interest of the target person. Sometimes, especially at events, we may meet people who do not belong to our target market, but belong to selected companies. It will be great to briefly introduce your organization and see if it coincides with the person's area of interest. If not, gently ask if this person can put you in touch with your target department.

Luiz: We should navigate social media platforms to understand a person's professional history, and also try to get information about his or her personal life. By examining their profiles, we can find something in common, such as sports or hobbies, so we can open the gateway to a first meeting.

Hussam: It all comes down to the basics. Analyzing the people, their industry and experience. Determining the goal you want to achieve with them and preparing how you will develop your ideas to present to them.

Now that we know what tools to use, then how do you network effectively, especially in the corner of the world where you work?

Samir: The most important advice that I think is to contact the right person at the right time and maintain that relationship in order to use it to reach out to a specific company. Even if the initial contact doesn't lead to immediate success, try to use it to reach out to other people who might be helpful. It's also important to have the ability to win people over (you need communication skills) and a good knowledge of the solutions the company offers. Work at all possible levels, executives, managers, end users. Everyone can help reach the target person/department.

Luiz: Talking to multiple teams is the right direction. There is a trend in my region where other companies are finding talent and courting them. Making contacts across multiple departments helps spread the net for other clients/prospects. Open communication is key.

Hussam: Once you get to know the people with whom you are establishing business relationships, it is important to maintain that bond. Use strong follow-up.

Are employees in your country open to networking, or do they not prefer this form of gaining new business contacts?

Samir: Yes, employees in the UAE are very open to networking. However, executives prefer to have direct contact with representatives of the same level of other companies. Sometimes they even prefer to maintain official (business-related) communication through their assistants. The opposite is true for unofficial communication, where they are more open to discussions.

Luiz: Nowadays, we have seen a decline in the desire to be accosted by people trying to establish business relationships. The reason is mainly due to an overabundance of contact attempts in direct channels such as WhatsApp and phone by companies, which makes people more restrictive when it comes to allowing requests for new business contacts.

Hussam: I would say it's a mix of both. Live events are the best way to network in Saudi Arabia.

In general, networking can be problematic for many people. What do you think is the most difficult thing about this form of establishing new relationships?

Samir: Several factors can be considered challenges when establishing new relationships, such as reluctance to talk to strangers, lack of formal introductions, or fear of being perceived as pushy. Another common barrier is the thought that other people might not like me, and thus not understand my intentions. The most important thing in this region is to be able to choose the right time to start any business-related discussion, as this will be crucial and will help avoid the target person losing interest from the very beginning.

Luiz: Referring to the previous question, the most difficult thing is to find ways to cross this barrier created by society.

Hussam: Maintaining relationships is the biggest challenge, especially if most of this is done via email.

Based on your experience, how do you break down barriers to meeting new people in the industry?

Samir: The key will be to follow the various principles described in the sections above.

Luiz: In our region, through referrals from other people with whom we already have business relationships. Also, through informal meetings or events, approaching the person, talking about what's going on in the here and now, rather than immediately moving on to business topics. Talking about the event, the venue, the speakers, the content presented, etc. are all good ways to get someone's attention. After a few minutes of open conversation, we may come across an opportunity to ask about business.

Hussam: Usually in business relationships, and especially in my specialty, people lack warmth and empathy when it comes to networking. I think combining strong and influential value-based relationships with a little warmth is key, helping you navigate cultural differences and learn more about the people you work with.

In conclusion, what is the most important thing we should know about networking?

Samir: I would say "who" and "when." Who to contact/who to approach/who to target and when to initiate contact. The first impression is very important in the region, especially for people who don't know your organization. After that, it is also important to maintain the acquired contact and build on it for mutual benefit. Let's remember about sustained communication.

Luiz: Networking should not be treated as pure business, aiming only at the financial results that a contact can generate for the company. We should not get straight to the point by asking about the problems the person is currently facing. In the region, people hate to be approached with a sales pitch like that. We should treat our contacts as people and listen to them about their daily experiences.

Hussam: Building strong relationships where it's not just about collecting contacts, but also about providing value and reaching out to quality people who can help you grow, and in return grow with you.

We can see many common as well as different features of networking depending on the region. The most important thing everywhere is to be open, versatile and ready to move forward. Relationships in business are extremely important and valuable, and the road to gaining them can be bumpy. But don't give up, and fight for each new contact, as it may prove to be the key to success.



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